Rozner: At least for now, Chicago Cubs panic quiets

  • Cubs' Ben Zobrist, left, Albert Almora Jr., center, and Jason Heyward celebrate after the Cubs finished off their sweep the St. Louis Cardinals last weekend. The noise surrounding the Cubs gets louder by the day, but the panic is over for now and the players are focused on their jobs.

    Cubs' Ben Zobrist, left, Albert Almora Jr., center, and Jason Heyward celebrate after the Cubs finished off their sweep the St. Louis Cardinals last weekend. The noise surrounding the Cubs gets louder by the day, but the panic is over for now and the players are focused on their jobs. Associated Press

Updated 5/11/2019 8:45 PM

It wasn't quite 1994 or '97 bad, seasons in which the Chicago Cubs not only started poorly but the outside noise was extraordinary, with daily disasters and nonstop nonsense, goats on the field and rats jumping ship.

Still, when the Cubs started this season 2-7, there were calls for Joe Maddon's job, and the constant issues off the field surrounding players, ownership and fans made for quite the circus.


It hasn't stopped.

The difference this year is the Cubs have turned it around in a big way, winning 21 of their last 28 after Saturday's victory over Milwaukee at Wrigley Field and are back to competing for a Central Division title, playing rather consistent baseball.

This has been no small feat considering the noise level and distractions.

"We're lucky to have a player group that is really professional and focused," Theo Epstein said Friday. "We have a solid mix of veteran leaders with great priorities, and younger players who have already been through a lot and know how to focus on the task at hand."

Most of the current roster survived a 3-1 deficit in a historic World Series and then blew a late lead in a Game 7 that ultimately ended the foulest drought in professional sports history.

They have, in essence, been through the worst of it already. Nothing -- from a baseball standpoint -- is ever going to be harder to survive than that.

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"Our scouts search for examples of guys facing adversity on and off the field, and study how they respond during those difficult times," Epstein said. "We don't always get it right, but it's important in baseball -- where failure is built into the game -- to acknowledge that handling adversity and responding in a productive way is essential."

Nevertheless, the volume has been turned up with seemingly new and bizarre topics cropping up all the time.

"The off-field issues we've been dealing with sometimes create a narrative around the club, but that affects the media and fan experience more than it actually seeps into our clubhouse," Epstein said. "Our guys respect each other and the collective mission they are on.

"They know how to have fun together, prepare and then focus on the most important three to four hours each day."

It starts with Epstein and Maddon, who didn't panic after two bad weeks and wouldn't allow an ugly start to get in the way of what should have been a good team on the verge of a fifth straight productive season.

"Been there, done that before -- in a good way," Maddon said. "We've been very successful, so why would we believe we won't be again?


"And you're gonna go 2-7 at some point during the season. Let's just get it out of the way early.

"Normally, when you get off to a good start, you're going to absorb that (2-7) moment and it's not as obvious. If you're already 15 games over .500, it doesn't stand out as much.

"Our guys have been through it before during a long season. So you have to believe in each other. If you don't believe in each other and trust each other, then it goes away."

While still relatively early, the Cubs over the last month have played their best baseball in about a year, putting together all facets of the game going into this weekend series with the rival Brewers.

It shouldn't be surprising, really, but we're not privy to the way the players handle the disruptions internally, as a group or individually.

"It kind of shows you that guys use this as an escape from everyday life," said 14-year veteran Jon Lester. "We come here and this is kind of our place and we just go play baseball.

"Most professional athletes deal with a lot of things. We all watch TV. Everyone's on social media. We see stuff. Just coming here and focusing on the task at hand that day (insulates) guys from outside noise."

More than that, whether said or understood, these guys want to play for one another.

"Every team is different, but it says something about the people in this room," said Jason Heyward. "You have to do a job. You have to show up and compete. These guys make you want to go out and put your best foot forward.

"Everyone deals with things differently, but I don't look at a whole bunch of stuff because it really doesn't matter. All that matters is what we have going in here and pulling for each other."

And the rough start …

"The season is the season. Every season is different. Start different. End different," Heyward said. "Teams will be playing different at different times.

"Can't get caught up in any of that. People just love to talk. Who cares? Just gotta play baseball.

"Only time it gets talked about is when you guys talk about it. We don't talk about it, regardless of how we're going. 'Oh, we're going good now. Oh, we're going bad now.' We don't do that.

"We have to show up every day and compete like it's our last day."

There's no doubt the Cubs will have other bad stretches this season, but a team that's averaged 97 victories the last four years is on pace for 101 in 2019.

And at least for now, the panic has subsided -- while the noise remains loud.

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